The Falmouth Falcons’ locker room is unseasonably warm for the beginning of December, filled with the body heat of over a dozen players at once. The air is heavy with the weight of defeat, the murmurs of players as they strip off the gear still redolent of the storm battering the glass windows that offer a one-way view of the grey and dreary-looking pitch.
Draco’s sensitive nose easily picks out the notes of dirt and wind, lying just beneath the overwhelming musty scent of sweaty bodies packed tightly within the heat. Both the first- and second-string players settle in to wait for their postgame notes on the long wooden benches scattered about the room, looking utterly wiped out, their brooms lying dead, a few almost broken, at their feet.
Draco knows that feeling of loss only too well, not only from his Hogwarts days but through his training at Aerovane. He always found himself Seeking for the second- or third-string teams—no one had trusted him to run first—and he had grown so accustomed to losing that by the end of the training camp, he’d never once entered the pitch with the hope of winning a match at all.
He walks along the back of the locker room quietly, unnoticed by most of the team as they sit facing the opposite direction, like prisoners awaiting a firing squad, and leans against one of the empty cubbies in the shadows. He folds his arms across his chest, scanning the room for Harry, and feeling unaccountably nervous about seeing him at the same time.
Unsurprisingly, but still disappointingly, the Falcons’ first-string Seeker is nowhere to be found. He’ll be with a Healer, then, somewhere in the depths of the gargantuan training grounds. Draco had seen Harry take at least three hits from a Bludger in the last hour of the match alone and had winced each time. It seems—in keeping with the brutal reputation of the Falmouth Falcons—even the second-string Beaters show no mercy on the pitch. No one watching would have known it was only a practice match, or that the players were all a part of the same team.
Richard Wells, coach of the Falmouth Falcons for the last two decades, stalks into the locker room from the pitch-side entrance, his broad chest heaving, his mouth turned downwards with frustration. There’s a gleaming Bludger nestled in one of his palms—an already ominous sight —and as soon as he looks upon them, all the players in the room fall into a sudden, tense silence.
Draco always heard that Wells runs his team like a private militia, but to see it first hand is… unnerving.
Wells casually passes the Bludger between his palms as he stands before his team, legs apart, his wide shoulders—a reminder of the merciless Keeper he’d once been—high with tension. He takes an obvious breath—seemingly contemplating the manner of dressing down he’s going to mete out to his players—and lets it out with a sigh.
“It seems I’ve been mistaken,” Wells begins casually, his Cornish accent thick. “See, I thought I was the coach of the top team in England.” He paces the floor, and Draco shifts a little uneasily, trying to read the expressions on the players faces.
The veins on Wells’ forearms bulge dangerously as he squeezes the Bludger between his palms. “I thought the Falmouth bloody Falcons was the team with the most wins in the entire fucking history of of the European fucking League!” Wells abruptly stops and throws the Bludger across the room, slamming one of the Chasers—Eli Jacobson, Draco gathers from the name on the back of his uniform—in the chest. From the non-reaction of the other players, the softness of Jacobson’s cry, and the way he simply catches the Bludger in his palms with a wince rather than letting it fall to the floor, it’s obvious to Draco that this kind of crazy is the norm for the Falcons coach. “You lot look as though you don’t even know the right end of a fucking broomstick!”
Draco steps forward out of the shadows out of sheer reflex more than anything, and Wells noticeably stills, then stumbles backwards, chest heaving.
“Draco Malfoy,” he says blandly. “Are you lost? Can I help you, boy?”
Boy? Draco grinds his teeth to reel himself in—an appalling habit that gives away his emotions, according to his father—and inclines his head. “Coach Wells, I need a word with you in private, if you please,” he says, trying to remain professional when all he wants to do is scream and ask everyone in the room if they’re absolutely insane for letting anyone treat them this way, coach or not.
“I’m busy at the moment,” Wells says, jaw tight. “Maybe if you made an appointment or announced—”
“Now, Wells,” Draco says, voice hard as nails. He gestures to the hallway behind him and waits with a raised brow, hoping that Wells won’t force him to make a scene. Wells knows full well who Draco works for and he had hoped, for Harry’s sake at least, that this could be done quietly.
Wells shifts from foot to foot, hands on his hips, apparently taking a moment to weigh his bravado against his common sense. Recognising the need for a trump card—Wells will probably try to continue this ridiculous stand off all day—Draco reaches into his suit pocket and pulls out the envelope from within, making sure that the dark green seal of the IAQ—the International Association of Quidditch—is visible to everyone in the room.
Wells surveys his team with one last superior look and then says—in a decidedly more mellow tone than before—“All right then, lads, you’re off. Take the day tomorrow, find your heads, come back fresh and ready to play like you belong on this team.”
Half the players are up and out the door before Wells can finish his speech, brushing by Draco with curious glances, a few with sneers. It is no secret that Quidditch is under some major scrutiny by the IAQ—and the world at large—so Draco isn’t surprised. One player in particular, Callum O’Malley, first-string Keeper, bumps Draco’s shoulder hard as he walks by, muttering the word ‘lackey’ beneath his breath as he goes. Draco rolls his eyes and steps aside until Wells reaches him and nods towards his office.
They both make their way down the wide, brightly-lit hallway that leads to Wells’ office, but Wells doesn’t wait until they reach it to start demanding information. “What the bleeding fuck, Malfoy? You come here in the middle of hell week, waving that around?” He gestures to the envelope in Draco’s hand as they sidestep a middle-aged witch pushing a lunch cart. Wells stops her and grabs a corned beef sandwich, and then carries on without offering Draco a thing.
“What are you trying to do to my players?!” he continues, peeling back the thick wax paper around his sandwich and taking a bite. “They’re already losing their fucking minds.”
They round the corner and Wells holds the door open to his office with his sandwich-free palm as Draco slips inside. He shuts it behind them hard enough to rattle the rows upon rows of European League cups that line the massive wooden shelves running across all four walls of the office.
The space itself is almost obsessively neat, the dark carpet compliments the pale blue walls, and the east wall is interrupted by a massive window that overlooks the now snowy pitch. Stacks of sports almanacs and play books line bookshelves in alphabetical order, and most of the far side of the room is taken up by a small sofa flanked by antique side tables and a wooden coffee table, but Draco knows he won’t be invited to sit there.
The room smells of newspaper and Dragonhide leather, conditioning oil and stale tobacco, and had Draco not just witnessed Wells attacking his players, he would have said it looked like any other coach’s office. But now he knows that it belongs to a certifiable arsehole, and very likely, a bloody cheat.
Wells passes Draco and walks around his desk to take his seat, dropping the remains of his sandwich on his desk and Summoning a handkerchief to wipe his hands and mouth. His desk is adorned only with a stack of memos, a timepiece and a floating replica of the Falmouth’s first and only award-winning broom prototype, with a plaque beneath it labeled ‘Storm Chaser I’.
Wells leans back in his high-backed plush leather chair and gestures for Draco to sit across from him, apparently nonchalant about having been witnessed abusing his team, or about the official green seal of the IAQ.
Draco stands behind the high-back chair meant for him but doesn’t sit yet. “What I just witnessed—” Draco pauses, knowing that the most he can do about it is lodge a complaint and see it ignored. Until now—or rather, before Draco’s informant came forward six months ago—the Falcons, and Wells, have been untouchable. Still. Draco’s horror at what he’s seen compels him to say something. “I’ll be making a note of it in my report, you understand, don’t you?”
Wells laughs at him. Actually. Fucking. Laughs.
“Why don’t you tell me what this is really about, son?” he says patronisingly, waving his wand at Draco’s chair so that it begins insistently bumping into his thighs. “Have a seat.”
Draco sits, slightly stunned, but mostly infuriated. “You know about the allegations against Macmillan,” he says woodenly, carefully imagining throwing the very chair he’s sitting on at Wells’ head.
“Of course I know about it,” Wells snaps. "I'm his bloody coach, aren't I?”
He takes another bite of his sandwich and chews on it as he Conjures a pair of reading glasses and begins to peruse one of the memos on his desk. “Don’t think you can harass my team because Macmillan is under investigation,” he says without even looking at Draco. “I’ve already benched the bastard, what more do you want?”
Draco slides the envelope across the desk, and continues speaking as though Wells hadn’t said anything at all. “The accusations are founded. Macmillan has tested positive for the illegal Performance-Enhancing Potion Quidesorol.”
The memo falls from Wells’ hands as he peers at Draco over his glasses for a long moment. “Bollocks,” he says flatly.
“If you’re not aware, the presence of Quidesorol at the level it was found in Macmillan’s sample constitutes an instant lifetime ban from the League.”
Wells doesn’t say anything to this, but his gaze drops to Draco’s envelope. He rips it open, pulling out the letter as he leans back in his chair to skim the contents, his thick brows inching slowly up into his hairline. “My whole fucking team?” Wells yanks off his glasses to glare at Draco furiously. “You’re demanding samples from my whole fucking team?! What the hell is this?”
“We have reason to believe that Macmillan took the PEP before he was drafted to the national team,” Draco says, enjoying watching the pulsing vein on Wells forehead grow larger by the second. “Therefore, the IAQ is making the case that England’s World Cup win is forfeit.”
Wells stares at him for a moment. “You want to take his Cup away?” he says incredulously. “What gives you the right?”
“Because of his status on the Falcons, we’re launching an investigation into your team, Wells,” Draco says. “Complete physical scans, blood tests, all of it.” Draco pauses, studying the almost deadened look of shock in Wells’ gaze. “As we speak, my colleagues are collecting the necessary samples; my discussion with you now is only as a courtesy from the IAQ, given your long standing in the sport.”
Wells glances at his wand as though he could somehow put a stop to what’s already been set in motion. “You… you…” Well’s mouth moves uselessly for a moment, then he seems to gather himself. “You’ve got yourself a snitch, don’t you?”
Draco sends him a patently bland look. “I’m not at liberty to answer that question—”
“Don’t play coy,” Wells says, cutting him off. He pushes away from his desk as if to stand, and then settles back down again, his movements erratic and unsteady. “There's no way the IAQ could pull this off without an inside man.”
Draco clenches his jaw for a moment, refusing to say anything that may confirm or deny Wells’ theory—he doesn’t trust Wells not to call for a lynch mob—and gives Wells the full weight of his stare.
Wells makes another abortive motion, no doubt to run his strangely small fingers through his moustache again and spits, “Who is he?” in a tone that makes Draco’s hackles rise.
Fighting back the urge to reach for his wand, Draco reminds himself that it would not be professional, nor beneficial to his already precarious position in the IAQ, to curse Wells’ mouth shut.
“If,” Draco begins, “the IAQ does have an ‘snitch’ as you call it, they would be protected by law.”
“By law, any player who’d sell out his team should be bloody sacked from the League!” Wells hacks out, his voice gravelly. “Not only for unsportsmanlike conduct, but a lack of loyalty!”
Draco is so close to losing it that he actually grips the armrests of his chair, digging his nails into the leather to keep himself from physically lashing out across the table. “What about integrity, Wells?” he says, annoyed at how breathless he sounds. “Can you honestly not see that this is going to affect the sport on an international level? How we must look to the rest of the world? Macmillan played for England, with a great big bloody red cross on his back. What does that say about us? About our country?”
Wells gives him a disgusted look. “Don’t be so naïve, Malfoy. You think England is the only country with a doping problem?” Wells raises a palm, cutting off Draco's’ response. “Allegedly,” he looks at Draco with a smug, superior sneer. “Have you seen Viktor Krum?” He sits back in his seat and strokes his ridiculous moustache. “Integrity, you say? I say bollocks. If your little snitch had any integrity, he would have come to his coach. Not the bloody IAQ.”
Wells gestures to the window behind him overlooking the pitch, now filled with amateur players in the middle of a snow laden practice match. “You know what your problem is?” he says, his eyes tracking the players. “You’ve never been good enough for Quidditch. Real Quidditch, not that child's play you did in school. You’ve never stepped onto the pitch with a group of lads, your family, wearing the same colours as you, knowing they’d all have your back.” His gaze flicks back to Draco, hard and cruel. “You’ve no business working for IAQ.”
It isn’t widely known that even though he graduated Camp Aerovane after the war—the infamous Quidditch training camp known for shitting out first-string League players for the last century and a half—Draco hadn’t been recruited by any teams in the League. But Draco would bet a thousand Galleons on Wells being privy to every little detail of Draco’s humiliation; the smirk behind his eyes makes that completely clear.
During his final year at Aerovane, when it became clear that no one in the League would give him a shot—because he was a Death Eater and his father had paid his way into the camp—he’d sustained a minor injury in a practice match and he’d ran with it. He retired from professional play—not that he’d ever even been given much of a go at it in the first place—and had been handed a place at the IAQ—again through his father’s connections with the board.
A year or two later, when most of his father’s friends had been voted out of from the top, he’d only been allowed to stay after some shameless groveling, and more years of grunt work; years of working as a glorified secretary, years of being the coffee and paper boy for more important men and women until he landed his first big case.
He still isn’t sure that anyone in the IAQ takes him seriously, not even Wood, but there is no denying that this case, if Draco handles it right, will be a landmark, likely to change the sport of Quidditch and its governance all over the world. The fact that the informant who started it all will only speak to Draco—a major source of resentment between Draco and most of the investigative department—is the only real power he has at IAQ, and lately even that hangs by a thread.
The mix of fury and frustration—the reminder of his impotence at IAQ, his resentment at the memory of his shame, the painful flashbacks of sitting in the stands as each team in the League looked him over at every scouting event as though he were nothing—flares in his chest so violently, so painfully, that he can’t stop himself from giving Wells the reaction he’s been looking for all morning, and the timepiece at the edge of the desk shatters.
Wells doesn’t even flinch.
"You’re a fucking wanker,” Draco whispers, his fury weakening the strength of his voice just as it’s done since he was a teen. “And if you’re involved in this at all, even marginally, trust me, I’ll fucking wreck you.” He stands, carefully pushing his seat back into its place, taking a surreptitious breath, and placing his hands upon its high back. “The IAQ appreciates your cooperation in this matter,” he continues, voice cordial now, and ignores Wells’ scoff. “We’ll contact you as soon as our tests are concluded.”
Wells sits back in his seat, folding his hands across his chest in apparent unconcern. “Your snitch can’t hide forever, Malfoy,” he says darkly. “And I won’t stop my lads from defending what they’ve worked their whole lives to achieve when he’s caught out.”
Draco stills at the door, his magic stirring uneasily within him, ready to strike. “I’d advise you not to make threats, Richard.”
“Threats?” Wells scoffs, though it seems rather more affected than genuine. “Boy, do you know the kind of money the Falcons make for the IAQ? Nothing is going to come of this.”
Draco doesn’t respond, though he’d very much like to knock his fist right into Wells’ infuriating overbite. He inclines his head and drops his business card unceremoniously onto the desk. “Keep an eye out for my owl.”
He walks, back straight, out of Wells’ office, and once sure he’s out of sight, he leans up against the wall and takes a calming breath.
If this case goes south, Draco can kiss his career goodbye.